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But Elisabeth ignored him for the most part, falling into his bed and watching him. She let her eyes close briefly, but when she felt the tender pull of sleep, some part of her mind wandered and she jerked herself awake, and would find herself watching Kyier again. She pulled her legs together into a ball and watched as Kyier’s shoulder blade moved as his quill danced about the parchment. He studied one of his books so intently, his eyes never leaving the dark pages as he continued to write. Eventually though Elisabeth began to fall into a tired, sleepy stupor.

Suddenly she was back in the castle, the colors changed from the dark to the darker. Elisabeth was running down the halls, listening to the laughter of her Aunt and Uncle. “Anita?” She called out, her voice thick and different. It wasn’t hers. “Anita, where are you?” And she kept running. But the rug underneath of her kept tripping her, and she stumbled into the wall.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are…” came the treacherous voice. Elisabeth turned, and suddenly Joshua was there. His disgusting, hot breath on her neck as his hands caressed her body, leaving a trail of sticky, saliva like slime against her body. He reached towards her womanhood, fondling and scraping and, oh, gods, she could feel his hard manhood pressing against her leg, and he was coming closer and he was going to-.

Elisabeth awoke with a startled gasp, pulling her legs tighter against her body and checking around her to make sure she was alone. She realized she was in fact, very alone. Except for one of the Cross cats, who stretched out in front of her and seemed irritated to have been woken up. The sun was barely making an appearance, and she stood to readjust her robe around her waist, before moving out of the bedroom. She went down the hall first, checking on the children first, seeing Sebastien in Sofia’s bed, and Mathius curled up in the corner in a chair. That brought a smile to her face and lifted a bit of her lingering fright. She moved over towards the children and sat on the bed. Sebastien groaned, his head digging deeper into the pillows, and Sofia opened her eyes quickly. Elisabeth wondered if she had ever actually slept. She looked way too tired for a girl her age. She touched her forehead, moving a strand of hair out from her face, and gave her a smile, putting a finger to her lips. Then she realized how silly that was and smiled wider, nodding her head towards the door.

Sofia got up with her, and she put her arm around the girl, the two women walking towards the kitchen. Elisabeth started to make some food, and began to make food for the girl as well. “Something tells me that you didn’t really sleep last night either,” she began. “I wish you could talk to me, Sofia. I really do, if you have any…anything to tell me, I will be here for you, I promise!” she said, all in one quick breath. She put a pot of tea in front of her, and poured her and herself a glass, plopping some sugar cubes. “Sorry it isn’t as good as Mathius’s,” She grinned. She kept her eyes on Sofia. “I had a really awful dream last night. It involved that…that monstrous man,” She said. “And those others…” She closed her eyes, trying to remember the light touch of Kyier, and his words. When she opened them Sofia was staring at her curiously. “Do you know, these…I mean, all of you, people who are Castors, do you have powers?” She asked. When she saw Sofia’s face change, she quickly attempted to back pedal, “No, no, Sofia…I’m not trying to accuse you or anything, but I’m just trying to understand. I won’t be mad…I want to understand,” She tried to explain again.

Upstairs, Mathius had awoken as well, seeing only the young boy in his bed, he checked to make sure he was alright, and then headed out to find Kyier. He wasn’t in his bedroom, which meant he was probably, now anyway, in either his mother or fathers study. Something, just a hitch; or in the library. He headed towards the former, going into Cederick’s old office, and found Kyier half asleep, hunched over an old text. “Did you get any sleep at all?” He asked him. He felt his cheeks burning at the next question. “Kyier, this morning, did you hear anything from your cousin? From talking to her, she didn’t seem to know anything about Landon, and I know you two sort of fell out but maybe we should find her to make sure she is alright…” he said, swallowing and trying to wet his dry throat. He was just trying to make sure she didn’t get hurt…he knew what it was like to not have anyone on his side…”And we better find her before my sister does! That’s the last thing she needs, my sister breathing down her neck when she understands that she is your cousin,” he said, shaking his head, and realizing he hadn’t seen his sister since she stormed off the other night.
Kyier was slow to gather his sleepy bearings. He looked up at his best friend with hazy eyes, only half able to comprehend the words he spoke. He yawned sleepily, marking his place before closing the book on his desk. "My cousin?" Kyier tilted his head slightly as he processed the words. "Lillia..." He sighed heavily as he spoke her name, feeling the heavy ache on his heart. He knew well that he had wronged her. "The fiery little brat. I suppose I can't very well leave her to wander about alone. She knows nothing of the hounds, or the castor, and with the war..." Kyier wiped his eyes as he stood from the chair, taking note of the relief framed over Mathius' face. They made their way toward the kitchen where the two girls sat together at the table. Sofia jumped from her chair and ran over to hug the Duke. She smiled when his arms came around her. "Good morning." Kyier stated to the both of them. "I will have a task for you upon our return, Elisabeth. One of terrifying magnitude that could result in certain death if you make even the smallest mistake." The woman swallowed noticeably, her brown eyes large. "We are going to find my cousin. I believe you may have met her briefly. When I bring her back, I will be leaving her care in your hands." Kyier grinned at the sound of the woman's exasperated huff as Sofia ran to fetch her coat. "No, Sofia. You stay here with Elisabeth. The outside is too dangerous right now. I'd rather you be safe here." he smiled at her, pushing her back lightly toward Elisabeth.

The little girl frowned at the sound of the door shutting behind the two men. She bit her lip, knowing well that Elisabeth's eyes were hard on her back. She wondered if Elisabeth would have been so willing to take care of her if she knew the whole truth. It had been miracle enough that despite finding out she was a castor, their arms remained opened. Taking another leap of faith was too much for the tiny child to bear. She turned and nearly screamed allowed with how quickly Elisabeth had closed the gap between them without her noticing. Having sensed her apprehension, the Duchess scoped the child into her arms. Sofia gasped as the woman's fingers tickled over her tummy. She kicked and squirmed, but the woman's hold on her was iron-clad. She giggled until finally she surrendered and wrapped her arms around Elisabeth's neck.

Meanwhile...
"Kyier? Where are we going?" Mathius asked, somehow struggling to keep pace with his much shorter friend.

"To fetch Lillia, I thought we already clarified that, you dolt."

The apothecary all but rolled his eyes, "Yes, thank you, Kyier. I merely meant that you seemed very sure as to where we were heading and last I checked, we hadn't a clue where the Marchioness might be."

"Maybe you don't, but I know exactly where she is."

Mathius scoffed at his quip, "Truly? You know exactly where the cousin you haven't seen in years, who you ran out of your manor with such hatred seething through your voice... That cousin? You are telling me that you know exactly where THAT co-"

Kyier smirked at the dropping of his friend's jaw, the man quickly going silent. Together they stood at the gated entrance to the cemetery, the large black arch towering over the outstretched land of those departed. In the distance sat the young Marchioness before the graves of her aunt and uncle. She wore the same men's clothes as the night before, her long hair down and blowing in the wind. Kyier sighed, instantly taking notice to the tears streaming down her pale, dirty cheeks. Even from a distance, it was easy to tell that the woman had caught cold.

"H-how? How could you possibly-"

"She thinks just like my mother," Kyier answered before the man could finish.

"Auntie... I'm so sorry. If only I was more like you and Uncle Ceddy, than maybe I could have- I..." Lillia breathed, watching as the tears fell to her clasped hands.

"They hear that a lot, you know. But... Not usually from someone who should have been their daughter. Me- I'm not anything like either of them. You, though... Well that's how I found you."

Lillia turned toward the sound of her cousin's voice. There matching eyes locked upon each other as Kyier made his approach. He knelt down beside her, placing a soft hand on the woman's shoulder. "I'm sorry." he whispered, his apology bringing about a large degree of shock in the girl's eyes. It was as if he had just divulged the secrets of the universe to her the way she gawked at him.

"Kyier Cross actually uttering words of apology?" Her voice was hoarse, but her eyes spoke volumes.

"Come home with us, Lillia. Stay at the manor. My mother would kill me for allowing you to stay out here all alone. I'm still breathing now, but I'm not willing to risk it a second time."

The Marchioness smirked just slightly, "That was kind of what I was hoping for, I think."

Kyier laughed as he helped her up to her shaky feet. She stumbled a bit, and Kyier worried that perhaps her cold was a bit worse than he first assumed. "Mathius, what the Hell are you doing? Get over here." Kyier snapped suddenly. The man had been standing back at the entrance and nearly jumped from his skin when the Duke suddenly called to him. "You remember Mathius, right?" Lillia nodded, offering a small smile to the man. "He's a damn good apothecary. We'll have him look you over at the manor. Until then though... He also makes a fine horse." Kyier grinned.

Lillia gasped, "What? Oh, no... I couldn't possibly," she protested. Before either of them knew it, however, Kyier had Mathius bent down and was lifting the girl to the man's back. For a moment, Lillia felt her consciousness wavier as her head fell softly to rest against Mathius' shoulder. "I'm sorry for this." she whispered.
“Go wash up Sofia, I think Lillia is coming. Or you can go wake up Sebastien,” She grinned, watching the little girl leave the kitchen and she sighed, readjusting her robe as she too left. But she went somewhere else. She went back to Kyier’s bedroom, and she looked around. She took in the image of the books, the desk, the priceless heirlooms and studies and essays and, oh my, it was so much to take in. She wasn’t planning on snooping. She just felt like she could take a moment and see Kyier in a way that he wouldn’t let anyone see him. She moved towards the bed and started to make it. She felt bad for having left the room in such a state.

But then her mind started wandering. Kyier had…Kyier had let her sleep in his bed. There was nothing more private than she could have done, besides seeing him naked, but that was entirely by accident. This he wanted her to do, he actually let her sleep in his bed. Elisabeth couldn’t help herself, she fell back into his bed and let his smell embrace her. She sniffed deeply, taking in the smell that was now all around her. But there was something she wondered. Did Kyier sleep with her? She doubted it, but the idea of his body forming perfectly against hers as she slipped from a happy consciousness to a faded, comfortable sleep.

His smell was truly overwhelming, but it was something so familiar and so comforting, and she was sure she had smelled it before, but couldn’t place it. And for a second though the scent became so potent that she thought he was actually there standing before her. Oh…Oh no…

~~~

“No need to apologize to me, Lillia.” Their faces were so close together, and it was as if they wore matching shades of red face paint. “Better you than Kyier,” Mathius whispered to her, trying to smile sideway at the Marchioness. They headed towards the manor, keeping taking the lead and attempting to leave them in the dust as Mathius’s long legs more easily kept up with him.

They headed towards the manor swiftly, all the while Mathius was easily able to carry the woman on his back, and attempted to make small conversation with. It seemed like the polite thing to do, after all. He asked her simple, silly questions, like what was her favorite color, and her favorite type of animal. He didn’t have the strength to be embarrassed, anyway. There was too much on his mind.

When they reached the manor Kyier went off in one of the direction, and Mathius helped Lillia down and put his arm around her, leading her towards the tea room. “I’m sure you want to take a nice hot shower,” Mathius said, taking her hands and holding them in his, “But I just want to check over you real quick and make sure you’re okay,” he said, taking a look at any of her exposed skin. “uh…are you okay?” He asked, swallowing hard. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but anything she was feeling she should have really told him so he could help. “Any scratches, or bruises?” he asked again.

But upstairs it was a different story all together. Elisabeth couldn’t tell how to gauge Kyier. He was…well, he didn’t seem angry. He seemed confused, like he couldn’t believe what he just walked in on. Elisabeth jumped up, trying to keep her robe from opening, and patted the bed. “Thanks so much for…for letting me sleep here last night. I just wanted to make your bed for you, since you were so nice and letting me sleep in it!” She said quickly, before trying to walk past him. Kyier reached out and grabbed her arm, holding onto her.

“My cousin is downstairs with Mathius. Go tend to her,” he said, though it was not an order. Elisabeth would do it…as a friend.
“Of…of course,” She said, before she headed quickly with her head down towards the room where Mathius and Lillia.
“You might want to get dressed first,” Kyier called through the bedroom, and making Elisabeth blush more, she turned, giggling nervously and rushing down the hall.
"Such brilliant bedside manner, is this how you speak to all of your patients?" Lillia giggled, only teasing of course. She smiled defeatingly when her laughter slipped into a bit of a coughing fit. She had heard of Mathius' talents, and he was indeed renowned for his craft. Perhaps it was because of his reputation that the Marchioness had expected he wouldn't shake so nervously while working. She could recall the quaking of his hands the last time he had helped her. "I'm okay, I think I may have just caught a bit of a cold in my own stupidity." she sighed. Mathius' quiet growl caught her attention, her eyes following his as he held her previously injured arm in his hand. Blood had saturated the bandage, and suddenly she became aware of the burning pain radiating from the region.

"I'll need to redress this after you get washed up. You have the start of an infection. This is probably the cause of your cold. I'm sorry." he frowned.

Lillia wasn't sure why the man was apologizing. She smiled softly, "Mathius... This isn't your fault. Please don't apologize to me. You've done nothing but help me. I'm grateful to you."

Sofia looked up at Sebastien as the pair made their way toward where they both had heard a familiar voice. She heard the boy gasp, and when she too saw the woman sitting near the crackling fire, she knew why. Despite the dirt lining her face and her tattered clothing, their was an unmistakable soft beauty about her. A beauty that was known to only one other that both of the children had come to love before she had been so cruelly stolen from them. The glass Sebastien had been carrying shattered over the floor before tears consumed him and he turned to run from the room.

The sound of the shattered glass sent Kyier running through the halls. He turned the corner just in time to see Sebastien's form running through the courtyard doors. Elisabeth was quick to join him, her big brown eyes looking to him for answers. All the Duke could do was shrug for the time being, "Take care of Lillia. I'll see what had Sebastien upset. Don't worry." Even though she still seemed apprehensive, Elisabeth obeyed. Kyier was thankful for that. Though he had never been the most insightful when it came to the thoughts and feelings of others, he thought that he might have an idea of what had gotten Sebastien so upset. The boy didn't go far. He sat alone in a small ball, curled up on the swing by his mother's garden. The crisp winter's air nipped at Kyier's nose as he sighed and made his way toward the boy. Without saying a word, he sat down beside him, offering nothing more than a silent comfort while Sebastien cried. Moments passed by like this until finally Kyier sighed, "They are almost identical, I know." His voice was soft and his lips pulled into a very faint smile when Sebastien rose his head. "I guess you didn't really have a chance to get a good look at her when she came here screaming about the war. I'm sure you're mind was on other things then too. Her name is Lillia. She's my younger cousin. Heh. Aside from the blonde hair, she's the spitting image of my mother, I know."
Sebastien laughed a little bit, looking almost bashful. “I suppose it was kind of silly for us to have panicked like that?” he said.“Sorry. I guess I should be more careful. And…I’m sorry, too, that she looks so much like your mother. Very different from my own…my mom was so…so tall and strong, like she could overcome the world. Did you know that? And then I realized that Anita was like that, too. She was so strong, but a different strong than my own mother. But I still think she could overtake the world. Don’t you?” he asked, finally letting a smile play at his lips.

Elisabeth stepped into the room with a few pastries she had fetched from the kitchen on a tray, and sat down next to the woman. “Here is some food for the two of you,” she said, giving them both a smile. It’s very nice to meet you,” Elisabeth said, “Officially, that is!” She reached out to take her hand and roughly shake it, before Mathius intervened.
“Do be careful, Elisabeth,” He said, almost treating her as porcelain.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” She said, dropping her hand. “You do look remarkably like Anita,” Elisabeth said. “Were the two of you close?” She asked. She sat there as she listened to Lillia tell her about Anita, and she smiled at the story. It was nice to see a part of Kyier that wasn’t so intense.

“Uhh, Elisabeth, I hate to interrupt, but perhaps you could help Lillia into the bath?” he asked.
“Oh, of course, I’m sorry!” She said loudly, helping the woman up, much more gently this time. They moved from the living quarters and Elisabeth helped her get up the stairs, even though she seemed to be able to do it herself for the most part. The entire time she kept talking and talking, asking as many questions as she could about Anita, Kyier, where Lillia was from, about her family. It never occurred to her at first who her brother was…or her mother. Not really. She was just so kind that she kept on blabbering and wanting to get to know her. She wanted to be her friend.

In the bathroom, Elisabeth started the tub by pulling upon the golden handles, letting the two streams of water flourish into the perfect temperature. And then she spilled the pink bubbles that she always used for herself in, letting the place get steamy and filled with fragrance. “I filled it with the stuff I use, so hopefully you like it, too. It should certainly relax you. Here, now let me help you out of your clothes…” She said, moving over to help her out of her wet and dirty ensemble. “I won’t look if that makes you feel better!” she said, trying to cover her eyes and help Lillia get in the bathtub. “Don’t be too bashful, I got into the tub once with Sofia,” She said. She continued jabbering, handing Lillia those things she needed, whether it be a sponge or a cloth to help clean her. “How is the temperature?” she asked. Elisabeth suddenly became red. “Sorry for talking so much. I…I hope I didn’t annoy you.” She smiled then, “I just hope you and I can be as good as friends as Kyier and I are!”
"Um... Sofia?" Lillia questioned, unsure if she knew anyone by that name. Elisabeth quickly explained how Kyier had come across the little girl, as well as how she had become orphaned. The Marchioness actually found herself wondering if the woman had taken a single breath as one tale of their adventures led into another, which in turn, led into but another. By the time she was through, all the bubbles in the bath had nearly disappeared, and if Lillia hadn't been a fire mage like her cousin, she surely would have been left shivering. She politely cleared her throat, "Um... Excuse me, Elisabeth... But might we continue this elsewhere. I fear will soon look that of an old maid if I am left to soak any longer." The Duchess gasped, embarrassed by her own blabbering. Lillia tried to assure her that it was okay, but her continuous apologies kept pouring out.

She was shown to one of the guest bedrooms, a room she would later find out had been dedicated to Mathius when he was but a boy. She smiled when he greeted her after knocking upon the door. Lillia noticed the curious look in his eyes the moment he stepped inside, and she knew instantly the cause. She giggled a bit, "Elisabeth's clothes are all much too short, and Auntie Anita wasn't any taller. I really didn't have a choice in the matter." she sighed, looking down over the ruffled blouse and trousers she had had to borrow from Kyier. The Apothecary had her take a seat as he carefully rolled the sleeve of her blouse. He looked over the infected wound, his eyes looking terribly saddened once more. How he could blame himself for her own stupidity was just beyond her. She had never known a man to be so outright kind.

"I'm not hurting you, am I?" He questioned out of pure sincerity, his brow framing his worry.

Lillia hastily shook her head, "No, Not at all. I actually want to thank you. You've been nothing but kind to me, Mathius. It's a type of kindness that seems to be lost to this world." she smiled. He finished with her bandages and smiled bashfully, but couldn't for the life of him seem to utter another word. Lillia ignored that fact for the most part, clearly oblivious to poor Mathius' plight.

Kyier smiled, laughing as he lay a hand atop the boy's head. "I would not doubt that for a second, Sebastien." He ruffled Sebastien's hair a bit, just as his father had done to him when he was but a boy. A young Kyier would only curse at the act, mostly annoyed that his father would so shamelessly distract him from his studies with such frivilties. It pained him to think back to those days and how poorly he had treated his parents. He prayed to the Gods that his little outbursts and moods hadn't ever made the pair of them question how much they truly meant to the young man. Sebastien's laughter broke through his sorrowful trance, the boy's brown eyes looking up at him with a big smile back on his face. The Duke blinked and grinned back, "Luminiera will be soon upon us. You and I are going to have to stick together, okay? Despite our losses, we are going to get through this holiday in cheer. We'll recruit Mathius, and I promise you here and now, war or no war, we will display the most beautiful light show in all of Roudel to honor those we have lost." Kyier almost looked confused then, as if surprised by the sentiment behind his own words. He found himself even more caught off guard when he suddenly found the small boy's arms wrapped around him. He sighed, "I wish you could have seen the manor this time a year after my Ma'ma was through with it. I'm not confident that I can uphold the same magnificence my mother managed year after year, but we can certainly try."

The Duke looked up to find all four of his mates staring at the pair of them from across the yard. The lot of them looked like those ridiculous trained monkeys that performed in one of those wretched traveling circuses. His jaw locked as he shoved the boy lightly, "Enough of your blubbering. Clearly that woman is not my mother. You're eventually going to have to learn to be a man, Sebastien. Downright pathetic behavior for a young man to display" he tsked, glaring now at the group as they approached. "And what are you fools looking at?!" he hissed. There was but a moment's pause before, "AND WHAT IN GOD'S NAME ARE YOU WEARING?!" he yelled. "Change. I demand you change right now and return to me my clothes!"

Lillia's eyes alighted in fury, "Excuse me?! I spent a night out in a cemetery because of your hateful words, Kyier Cross! I think I am damn entitled to your wardrobe. In fact... I think I'll go burn the lot of it right now!" she shouted.

"You wouldn't dare it!" Kyier hissed.

His cousin only grinned as her eyebrow rose to a level matched only by he. Brilliant displays of bright orange and blue alight simultaneously as the two mages glared daggers at one another. All the others could do was watch in horror as fireballs were shot about the courtyard. Mathius tried to grab Sofia to take shelter, but the little girl was already half way across the yard. It was a good thing too. She reached out and latched onto Sebastien's collar, pulling him down just in time to evade an orange fieryy mass from grazing his head.
The entire thing was like a show, and Elisabeth felt herself watching the flying flames with fear and fascination. But mainly fear. Terrible, bone chilling fear. While the others hid, she stood up and walked closer to the two children. “Would you two stop it?!” She screeched, watching them continue to try and ignite one another. “Stop!!” She cried again, stomping her foot as an impatient child would. But those two never ceased, and instead decided to continue their attempts at mauling one another. All of a sudden though, a rather large chunk of dirt hurled its way into Kyier’s chest, watching him fly back into the flowers. “Stop it. Both of you,” Elisa hissed, her hands on her small hips.
She looked at Lillia with pleading eyes now, and clasped her hands together. “Please, stop it.” And then she half stood in front of the Marchioness while Kyier stood, as if she were going to protect her. Kyier looked furious for a moment, before mouthing something she couldn’t understand. She merely pointed at the terrified children: Or, the shaking Sebastien and the very nonchalant Sofia, who stood watching with Mathius.
Kyier came up to them. And Elisabeth smiled smugly, in a very odd way for her. “See, he listens. I told you we were great friends!” She said. And Kyier laughed behind her. He laughed as if he were hissing.

“Is that what she told you, Lillia? I’m merely a…a guardian for this poor, defenseless girl. If you could even call allowing her to live in my house THAT!” He tried to laugh again, a very boyish noise, one that Elisabeth had not yet heard. “Do you want to hear the real story?” He asked, smirking at the Duchess. Elisabeth braced herself. “It started months ago…I was going about my life as usual when I come to find my mother had agreed to take in a random estranged lunatic from the street. You couldn't possibly begin to imagine how homely and pathetic this being looked. Not to mention she was extremely obnoxious and annoying! The girl tormented me every second of every day. I tried telling her politely that I had not the time to take care of her every want and need...but the girl wouldn't hear of it and demanded my attention.
And of course it was my responsibility to take care of her...my mother was sometimes like that you know.”
He sighed a very long sigh, continuing, “My my...all the work I had to put into helping her. You see, the girl could hardly speak proper English...she could barely speak at all actually. Mostly she just grunted and growled. After she learned to speak I had to teach her how to eat properly, read, even walked civilized. It was ridiculously agonizing. You wouldn't believe her dancing...I figured she must have been raised by wolves, or worse, the same Hounds that plague our very Kingdom.”
“After that it was peril after peril...trouble seemed to follow the poor creature. I mean honestly! I had to save her not only from humiliation but also from being hung, hungry hounds, dungeons of death, the deep abyss of a black hole, the deep abyss of another random hole, perverted men, blazing fires, falling from a roof...and that is only the half of it.”


She was interrupted by a shrill voice. “How dare you speak of me as such a monster! I am no such thing and you know very well I was not raised by wolves, Kyier.” She looked at Lillia and smiled. “No, no…you see what had happened is that I never truly knew of my heritage until months ago, where I was whisked off from Van Hollen, and brought here. Anita and Cederick were so kind to me, but there was this arrogant, pig headed, thinks-he’s-better than everyone else Marquess who walked in, and begins insulting me before he even gets to know me.” She looked over at Kyier and patted his cheek. “And now he loves me and we’re the best of friends, THE END!” And she hiked up her dress and headed inside, calling out for the children. She had to leave before she said anything else. All this joking when her feelings were so very real indeed. And she wasn’t about to tell him how her heart fluttered when he was around, and his intense gaze sent shivers down her spine. She had feelings she could not deny for him, and she was not about to tell him and get laughed at. He would never return her feelings. She wasn’t so naïve to think that. He could have anyone, he could have Isabella. She was clearly in love with him. She went to do something with her time. But she couldn’t get those eyes of his out of her head.

Three days had passed while Mathius had been helping with the upcoming nights festivities, , everything was coming along splendidly. He was going to have to do most of the work, which was fine with him. He sat near the fountain in the city square, daydreaming as he helped make the final lanterns for the night’s celebration. It was the first day of Luminera, the holiday that celebrated the spiritual rising of Lumos, the Goddess of the Heavens and Light. This holiday was to celebrate all that had to do with love, and being with friends and family. Mathius would light the paper lanterns, with the crest of Lumos’ Lion upon it, and they would send them into the air: they represented those lost in times past, the spirits with whom Lumos has kindly collected and brought into her love. And they represented the children who have not yet been born. Many couples have wished for the blessing of a child. His mother used to tell him the same thing…

“Mathius, Mathius darling!” Madeleine would have called. And Mathius would have run through town to his mother’s arms. She would have held him and sat him next to her near the fountain, her golden curls and bright, shining green eyes filled with joy.
“Yes, Ma’ma?” He asked. She held up one of the lanterns she was working on, and took his hand. Pressing it in her own, it filled with wonderfully bright golden light, and illuminated the lantern. It floated in front of them for a few moments, both of them laughing together. Madeleine loved watching her son.
“You’re going to make a wonderful Light Mage, my son. Do you know why?” Mathius giggled.
“Because Lumos kissed me, right here!” he said, touching his head.
“Yes,” she said, “She did.” And she kissed him right on his forehead, where they said Lumos kissed those babies destined to be Light Castors. “But also because she knew what a good heart you were going to have. Never lose that, Mathius. Never lose your faith in love.”
“Mama…Mama, I-,”


“Mama…” he said, looking at the lantern in his hands and smiling sadly. He still missed his parents so much. He missed the soft spoken words of his mother, and the loud laugh of his father. They really did love one another. That was the love that killed his father, too. But now was not a moment of sadness, for this was the time to remember the happiness that those who passed on had brought in their lifetime. He looked on towards the setting sun. People would be closing shoppes. People were already setting up their stands to sell baked goods and hand out lanterns to those who came into the town. This was the first night of the seven day holiday. It was always so Magickal.
“Mathius! Hi!” Mathius turned, seeing Elisabeth come down the road with a lantern, followed by the children. Lillia and Kyier looked as though they had been arguing about something, which probably meant they were merely having a discussion and someone got caught on fire. But he still couldn’t very well take his eyes off of her. She looked beautiful. He had to stop staring so strangely at her, because he had work to do. He said his kind hellos, and then as it was getting darker, he lit the edges of the trees, allowing the light to penetrate the oak and suddenly the trees around them sparkled as if dwelled in by the fairy fold of those tales. That was one of his favorites. And the lighting would dim later, the lighting that was still in the shoppes, or on the carts…it would dwell and the lanterns would light, and oh…the beauty of it all.

Elisabeth and Sebastien and Sofia were all sitting together, Sebastien explaining to Elisabeth what they did tonight. She listened intently, explaining how her family would go to the graveyards of those deceased and bring them presents. They didn’t have any light castors, or anything of the sort, so they merely lit small candles and placed them in the river that ran through one of the forests. She let the two of them be, both sitting together. She heard Sebastien ask while she walked away, “Sofia…do you have anyone who…who you’re lighting your candle for?” He asked. Elisabeth wondered if he would get an answer. She wandered around, looking at the smiling faces of all the children. It was so nice that now even with an impending war they were able to do something so wonderful, and people seemed to…to just forget everything. She kept walking, following a small path that had bit lit with the same fireflies. It was so beautiful. She didn’t mind moving away…tonight she felt so safe. Her mind was on Kyier, too. She thought about how he has changed, and she was so excited to give him the present she purchased for him. She just hoped he would like it. Suddenly, the noise of the city died down, and the singing hum or the twinkling lights and wind were all she had. She was alone. She wasn’t scared at all, and felt so at peace…

That was when she felt it. The presence behind her, and she turned and saw Kyier standing there. “Sorry, I didn’t mind to run off,” She explained. “it’s just…so beautiful.”
Kyier sighed, and watched her. “It is, Mathius does a good job every year. I just didn’t want you getting lost and coming crying to me later, or needing to save your sorry-,”
“Kyier!” Elisa giggled. There was another awkward silence again, and she looked down at her feet. Suddenly, she sprung into Kyier arms. “Thank you so much, Kyier. You have no idea what your friendship means to me.” She couldn’t open her eyes, as her face was buried perfectly in the crook of his neck. “I love you,” she wanted to say, but she was not so foolish. And there was still another who battled for her heart. Finally, she braved it and looked up, once more kissing him upon his warm cheek. “You’re handsome when you get red,” She whispered. And then she just left, not being able to take anymore, she moved back towards where the lanterns were going to be released.

Or…

That was when she felt it, the presence behind her. She was about to turn when she felt him behind her, perfectly aligning himself to her body. This was him. This was not the man who stole his identity, but this was her savior. “You’re him, aren’t you?” She asked. His own hand reached down and took hers, holding her close to him as they swayed in the small clearing. They were so close. She wondered if he had on his mask, and wanted to turn and kiss him. This was the man who still battled for her beating heart and love.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered, and she did as she was told. With her eyes closed, she was spun around like she had been on the dance floor. Her body was pressed against his, and she felt the smile play at her lips. A small kiss on her cheek left her red, and suddenly she opened her eyes when she felt his presence had left, and she sighed. She was once more alone…But she was so happy.
Kyier shook his head as he reached down to lift Sofia up over his shoulders. She had the very same curious expression on her face as he as the pair of them watched Elisabeth. The woman stood all by her lonesome, swaying to and fro with no one but herself while she giggled like some deranged schoolgirl. "Strange... I know no other word for it." Kyier muttered as Sofia nodded in agreement. "Her aside, the night is something more beyond words, no?" Kyier smiled. Sofia looked up to the skies then, watching in aw as the dazzling lights twinkled along the stars. The Duke was right, the sight was something out of a storybook. She tilted her head and smiled down at the man, absolutely loving her new view... Even if she had an inkling that it had only been granted to her to keep a certain apothecary's sister from hanging all over him. It felt like she was dancing through the sky along side the beautifully twirling lights. "It's believed that every one of these lanterns will reach far up into the heavens," Kyier stated. "People say that the Goddess of Light collects them herself and makes sure that each and every one gets to the loved one it was meant for. It is a way for those of us on earth to hold onto the spirits of those lost to us. That is also why some lanterns have names scribed on their fine fabric." he smiled. Sebastien looked all a panic after hearing this. His brown eyes grew wide and he hastily grabbed onto Kyier's shirt,

"Kyier...Uh... Kyier I-I didn't write the names down! I didn't know! Can we go home quick?!" the boy cried.

The Duke only smiled, "Some people like to make doubly sure that their lanterns reach their loved ones, but then others... Well, we just trust that Lumos already knows our hearts." he winked, giving his lantern a twist with his wrist. Sofia watched as it spun, blazing through the air. She took quick note of the lack of ink over the delicate material and smiled as it floated away into the sea of shining lanterns. Her mind traced over Kyier's words, and as all of the lights reflected against the darkness in her eyes, she thought about Lumos. It must be quite the difficult task, making certain all of the gifts got to their appropriate owner...especially all alone. Luminera was a holiday in dedication of the goddess, and yet...she was forced to work maybe even more than usual! Sofia looked at her own lantern between her two palms, and then back up to the sky. A small smile graced her lips as she released it into the air, She hoped it would reach her, and that the Goddess didn't mistakenly give the lantern away like the others. No, this lantern was for her. Lumos gave so much light and hope, Sofia only wished to give but a small sum back.

A few feet away, the Marchioness wouldn't dare allow a blink. Her heart felt so heavy in her chest as her eyes beheld the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.

"It's amazing, isn't it, Miss?" A fellow from the crowd smiled. He moved closer to her, suavely lifting off his coat and placing it over Lillia's slender shoulders.

"Uh- um... Who-" Lillia all but gasped.

The mysterious man only smiled back handsomely as he brought the hood of the jacket over her head. "A friend, Miss. A friend who has walked through enough shadows to know that the warrant for your capture has not come to a close just because the information has already been passed. Seems you may know more than even you realize."

"Lillia? Are you okay?" The Marchioness turned as Mathius came up beside her. His eyes were hard on the man, though the gentleness of them was hardly threatening as he might have been intending.

The man bowed to the apothecary, the same cordial smile never leaving his handsome face. "I mean no foul, Mathius. Your friends know me well enough to say the same." Lillia jumped, gasping when the man disappeared just as quickly as he had come. She felt Mathius' hands on her shoulders, and blushed when she realized she had knocked into him.

"Uh...He- he said the search for me hasn't ended and that I should be more careful."

Mathius appeared alarmed by this, "Then we should get you home." He nudged her forward, but Lillia shook her head, her eyes pleading.

"No... Please, not yet. I- I want to stay. I um... This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this. Auntie invited my brother and I every year, and every year my mother refused to allow us."
“Then we’ll stay,” Mathius said. And he flashed another smile at her. “Anita would have loved it if you were able to be here,” he said. He sat back with her, leaning against the fountain as they watched the lanterns float up into the cloudy night sky. The lights remained twinkling as the audience all sat awestruck. Even though they did this every year, it was always just as beautiful. And they always seemed to have something to pray to Lumos. Mathius looked over at Lillia, noticing how truly beautiful she was. Her eyes were shining with tears that should never have been cried. Mathius stared at her as everyone stared at the lanterns. She was like a piece of art. He wished he could take away her pain she had been caused as a child. If anyone as beautiful or as kind as Lillia would be with someone like him, he’d vow to always wipe away her tears, and always be there for her. Not that someone like her, so elegant and kind and beautiful would ever be with…with him. He couldn’t even be man enough to put his arm around her.

Elisabeth was watching Kyier with a similar look, though her eyes were a bit less misty eyed, for she had a lot on her mind now. There was something in her heart, and something in those eyes…they belonged to a wonderful man. Watching Kyier with Sebastien and Sofia now made her question her feelings even more. She had never been so torn. What she was felt for Kyier was so different from what she felt for the masked pianist who had saved her life on more than one occasion. But she couldn’t deny she had feelings for both men. They were just so different…but so…intense. Elisabeth brushed a stray hair from her face behind her ear, her eyes never leaving Kyier. This was a very different man now than he was when they first met. He was just that…a man; for when they met he was a boy. She kept smiling at him, and when he looked up at her and their eyes met, she felt a very powerful force move between them.
Sebastien and Sofia were also watching, and Sebastien elbowed her in the sides and wiggled his eyebrows, laughing at the look Sofia gave him. He gave her a big hug, still giggling. “Happy Eve, Sofia,” He said.

The tradition was that everyone would stay until the very end, and the last of the lanterns disappeared into the sky. They might have had enemies in the town, but for this one night, and this one celebration, everyone came together to make sure that the prayers of every last boy and girl were heard. When the last of the lanterns finally did disappear, so high up in the clouds, the wisps of voices began like a steady stream and got progressively louder. Friends and family said goodbye to one another and gave well wishes as they and their sleepy children headed back home. The two larger groups were also going to combine back at Cross Manor.
Isabella came out of nowhere, apparently having been chatting with a few men she used to be…friendly with, before she moved away. At least that was the impression that Elisabeth had gotten, not knowing the full story. They all grouped together, bundling from the growing wind and heading off through the crowd in the direction of home. Elisabeth was walking ahead, almost prancing as she sang to herself. Isabella, Mathius, Kyier and Lillia were walking together, too, but a bit back, as the children, Or Sebastien really, kept asking to open one gift tonight. “Come on, Kyier,” Mathius grinned, “One gift won’t cause any harm…” he merely joked because he knew Kyier would have done it anyway.

As they got closer to the manor, they all stopped in awe and shock. Standing as beautiful as ever was the manor, covered in lights that twinkled as the trees did. It was like walking in a wonderland. The lights even came out into the flowers and lined the pathway that lead to the doors. Everyone slowed down, and sort of took a last few glances as they entered the home. Sebastien seemed to be buzzing with excitement and Mathius headed into the kitchen to whip up a batch of hot chocolate. The rest headed towards the tea room to get comfortable. Tonight was such a good night. Everyone had a present for someone else, too. Elisabeth was so excited about her present for Kyier.

There was a roaring fire, and everyone was tucked away in blankets. Sebastien was cuddled up next to Elisabeth and Sofia, and Kyier had started passing things around. It was just when he got to the entrance of the room, standing in the entranceway when Isabella appeared from freshening up behind him. She giggled softly, and stood by her friend. “Oh, Kyier, my friend; would you look at our predicament?” She swooned, glancing upwards as she looked at the greenery hanging above them. Being a bit taller than he, she leaned down and kissed him on his lips. Right in front of everyone. It seemed to last for hours, and Elisabeth suddenly felt a weight on her chest. She stared into the fire, not able to look at the display. “Happy Luminera, Kyier,” she heard Isabella say. She looked up at Mathius, who was watching her with a very sad, familiar look upon his face.
Kyier's eyes grew wide at the sensation of Isabella's lips taking his. He sighed, his right hand moving gently across her smooth cheek as he kissed her back in a polite fashion. He tried to push away gently, but the woman seemed be enjoying this a little too much. Kyier took a step backward, his eyebrow rising in the surprise of it all. The only person who was not aware of Isabella's feelings for the Duke was indeed the Duke himself. "Ahem..." Kyier coughed, still unable process the full effects of Isabella's passion. That had hardly been an act of mere tradition...

"You know what? I'm exhausted, and Sofia and Sebastien... The two of you are up way past your bedtimes. Come along, to bed now." Elisabeth all but snapped. She dare not look at anyone as she spoke, lest she reveal the tears that threatened to escape her eyes.

"Uhh- Yes...I think it is time that my sister and I take our leave for the night." Mathius followed. He stood up in haste and briskly walked over to Isabella and grabbed her by the arm.

Kyier cleared his throat, following after the pair as they started down the hall, "We will see you again tomorrow for dinner. Elisabeth is quite excited to prepare the meal." He gave an awkward little half smile, "Or at least she was..." he muttered to himself. He waved to the pair as they stepped out into the cold night and remained until they made it safely to the carriage.

"Um... Elisa... I was hoping I might tuck Sofia and Sebastien into bed tonight. I have a wonderful story about Lumos that my father told me when I was little and I have been just dying to share it." Without saying a word, Elisabeth nodded, forcing a small sincere smile to thank the woman for her kind gesture. Kyier entered the room just as the Duchess disappeared down the hall. Lillia's eyes shifted, giving him but a single glance. Sofia and Sebastien both gave Kyier a warm hug goodnight before taking Lillia's hands.

The Duke groaned as he fell back into his couch, "Ridiculous." he growled. He looked to his parents standing proud over the fire's mantle and shook his head at their smiles. "It was all so easy for the pair of you. You both know I'm trying here! Gah! It's so much easier just not to care. I'm blaming you, Mother." he glared. He swore he could hear the woman giggling in his head. He sighed as he lifted himself from the couch and shuffled a few of the packages back into a cozy presentation before he moved slowly down the lit corridor. He could just make out the sound of Lillia's soft voice as she told the little ones a bedtime tale. Her voice was so soothing and gentle, just as his mother's had been. Anita would tell the same story to him and Mathius every eve, and though he always pretended to be bored... He was certain now that his mother had known he loved it.

"Is Elisabeth okay, Lillia?" Sebastien asked softly as he nestled down into his pillow.

The Marchioness smiled, "Of course. She's the one Kyier loves." she winked.

Sebastien shot up, "WHAT?! No way!" he all but shouted while Sofia just rolled her eyes. "You're silly, Miss Lily. There's no way, no way." he laughed.

Lillia grinned, "We'll see."

The boy laughed, the act quickly becoming a yawn, "That would be nice though..."

Back down the hall, Kyier stood before Elisabeth's door, a clearly conflicted expression worn on his face. He heaved one last sigh before he knocked upon the wood, "Whether you approve or not, I'm coming in this room." he stated sternly.
Elisabeth was sitting by herself at the vanity, staring almost angrily at her reflection. Her face was still blushed red, albeit in her remaining anger. She didn’t need to be so sad. She had no claim over him…he could kiss whoever he dam well pleased. And now he stood behind her in the mirror, and she was silent, watching him. The purple silk of her robe opened briefly to allow her night dress to be visible, before she tightened the sash and moved over to pull down her bed. “Well, you’re in. What exactly is it you want?” She asked. Her voice wavered though, because she found she was unable to be truly upset with him…he didn’t deserve her anger.
Kyier watched Elisabeth's reaction and was quite frankly a tad befundled. He knew that she would probably be ticked...but Elisabeth honestly looked hurt. He couldn't help but smirk though, "Anger does nothing for your image." he chuckled, oh so smoothly. The Duke sat down beside her on the bed, taking note that she seemed to out right refuse to look him in the eye. He sighed and placed a hand on her shoulder to get her attention, "I'm giving this to you." Kyier held out a small box wrapped beautifully in shining gold paper. "I wanted to wait until tomorrow, but it seems that it is necessary tonight." he half-smiled, giving a roll of his mulberry eyes.

Elisabeth looked down at the gift, and then finally up at Kyier's face. She blinked rapidly, her disbelief that he would actually get something for her was so blatant that the Duke quickly grew annoyed. "Take it already." he snapped.

"I-I really wasn't expecting anything, you know?" she all but stuttered.

"That is quite clear. Now would you just open it already," he grumbled. What was this feeling? He couldn't truly be nervous, could he?

ELISABETH....

"For pity sake, please stop crying," Kyier sighed as he reached to gently wipe away her falling tears with his thumb. He carefully took the necklace from her and guided Elisabeth''s long, curled lockes from her neck. He leaned in to clasp the necklace around her and smiled softly, "It looks beautiful on you." Kyier stood from the bed and paused but a moment before turning back around to face her, "It had belonged to my mother, but somehow I don't think she'll mind if you hold onto it." He turned his head away then, looking lost in the world of his own thoughts. "It suits you, I think. Ahem, but you seem fine now so I'm going to take my leave. I am certain Sebastien will have us up early in the morning. Goodnight, Elisabeth, Merry Lumineria." And then without thinking, he leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, not saying another word before he disappeared from the room.
Elisabeth looked down at the gift, and then finally up at Kyier's face. She blinked rapidly, her disbelief that he would actually get something for her was so blatant that the Duke quickly grew annoyed. “Take it already,” he snapped.
“I-I really wasn't expecting anything, you know?” she all but stuttered.
“That is quite clear. Now would you just open it already,” he grumbled. What was this feeling? He couldn't truly be nervous, could he?
When Kyier has presented the necklace to her, Elisabeth could feel the blush creeping onto her cheeks. She knew that he meant no romantic advance towards her, but this was merely an act of friendship. But it did mean so much to her. She fingered the jewel in her hand, and cried a little. She didn’t mean to, it was just such a sudden unexpected thing, and here she was acting a bloody fool.
“For pity sake, please stop crying,” Kyier sighed as he reached to gently wipe away her falling tears with his thumb. He carefully took the necklace from her and guided Elisabeth's long, curled lockes from her neck. He leaned in to clasp the necklace around her and smiled softly, “It looks beautiful on you.”
“Kyier, I…I really cannot thank you enough,” She felt she whispered.
Kyier stood from the bed and paused but a moment before turning back around to face her, “It had belonged to my mother, but somehow I don't think she'll mind if you hold onto it.” He turned his head away then, looking lost in the world of his own thoughts. “It suits you, I think. Ahem, but you seem fine now so I'm going to take my leave. I am certain Sebastien will have us up early in the morning. Goodnight, Elisabeth, Merry Luminera.” And then without thinking, he leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, not saying another word before he disappeared from the room.
“Happy Luminera…” She said in response, smiling like a bloody baboon and falling into bed with her robe still on, already dreaming of his sweet lips upon hers.

The first strike woke Elisabeth. The sound of the bomb hitting the roof with such force made her jump from her slumber. It felt as though it was an earthquake as he bed shook and she held the covers around her neck, so confused. But as the sleep left she understood, this was not a dream, and instead something terrible was happening. She jumped out of bed, trying to quickly detangle her legs as she ran into the hall. She could smell the smoke before she could see it. She saw Kyier come from his own bedroom, further down the hall. She called out to him, running towards his bedroom and the childrens before the rafters in front of her crumbled by some unseen force.
She crawled away on the ground, trying to call out but the sudden onslaught of smoke was in her lungs, and the hem of her robe caught fire as she tried to crawl away, enough so that she had to take off the robe as it became mere ash behind her. She kept on all fours, crawling quickly as another rafter fell. This time it left a hole above her where she could distantly see the starry night sky. Her tears mixed with the ash on her face, blinding her more as she tried to move. She had to figure out where she was. She had gotten so turned around. She pushed herself forward as the floor started crumbling…as if it were melting around her. She felt through, landing near the kitchen.
“Kyier!” She called out, coughing and spluttering as she tried to find anyone. She had to get out of there, but she refused to leave with the children. She should have known Kyier would have gotten to them, rescued them, and brought them to safety. But her mind was going too quickly, and she was too damned scared. She was so alone.
She left the kitchen, and in the foyer, where the painting on the walls were chipping away, the paintings were falling all askew, and crashing loudly to the floor, she ran back up the stairs into the area where the children were. Down the hall she thought she heard crying, so she ran faster, and faster. Her necklace beat at the same tune as her heart, hitting her repeatedly in her chest.
She crumbled into a ball again near the room, the massive amount of smoke filling her lungs finally bringing her into a near unconsciousness. Her hands were shaking as she reached for the doorknob that lead into the room where she was sure the children were still together. Her vision was blurry, and she was losing her sight…darkness was closing in on her, and finally she touched the handle. It was hot. Burning hot. She felt the stinging, burning of her flesh as the bronzed handle singed her palm. She cried out, drawing back as she used her last amount of force to push open the door. The gust of black smoke that hit her face from the destroyed bedroom was the last thing she felt before she crumpled onto the floor.
But she was not alone, for the man that stood behind her, seemingly coming out of the smoke itself, wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight against his chest as they disappeared into the smoke, and only moments later reappeared. Binks had whispered to her that everything was going to be okay; she just had to be calm. She couldn’t move, and she couldn’t see…she could only hear his voice, soothing as he laid her upon the snowy grass outside. She could barely breathe, but she was gaining her consciousness back. When her eyes opened, through her blurry vision she saw the manor she had come to love set ablaze, nearly the entire west side crumbled into the melted snow and dirt, with black smoke rising from its ashes.

Sebastien had actually gotten up earlier, by just a few moments, to get a glass of water. But when the quakes started, he had been heading back to the bedroom, and a beam fell that he barely avoided. And so he tried to get to the bedroom for Sofia, or any of the adults, but he kept getting blocked. Finally, it was him against the wall, and he had no where to go. The cieling above him was alite with flame, and he huddled down, unsure of how to escape.
The world around the young girl had frozen. Flames vanished before her as nothing but darkness stretched out before her. Sofia stood like a marble statue, her breath silent in the domineering blackness. Her small body trembled, so unsure and afraid. Why was this happening? This couldn't be happening again. Why was it anytime she found a true home that it was left to burn to the ground? It was curse. It had to be. Tears fell from her icy blue eyes just before a luminous figure appeared before her. Sofia blinked, the sudden brilliant light hurting her tearful eyes. "Fear not, little one. The smallest of lights will shine its brightest against the blackest of darkness. Afterall, it is its nature." She swallowed as it felt as though the soft, beautiful voice reached down to touch her very soul. The little girl reached her hand out for the womanly form, but the figure only looked onto her with a saddened, forlorn smile before vanishing. Sofia bit her lip, wishing so badly to cry out the word, "Wait!" But alas, once again she found herself standing so very alone in the darkness. She closed her eyes tightly in that moment and took a deep breath. In her mind she could hear his labored sobs. Sebastien was all alone just like her. Her eyes sprung open to the illumination of a golden path set out before her. She could no longer be scared anymore. Sofia took off down the hall, the darkness fading way to the fiery reality she had once again been dealt. It was not long before she stood in the doorway of the room which he seemed to be trapped by no more than fear itself. Sebastien sat trembling like she had, his mind absent and escaped from the tragic reality that now threatened his life. Sofia tried to wave to him from across the room, praying he would notice her efforts. She searched around frantically, trying to muster any idea of a way to get the boy's attention. Her heart began to race as the ceiling overhead began to to sink, the foundation starting to crumble without warning. Sebastien sat frozen still, his brown eyes wide in terror. He was going to be buried... She would never reach him in time. Sofia's lips trembled as once again tears left her eyes. The sound of the ceiling giving way was deafening in her ears. So young and she had already lost so much. She couldn't lose Sebastien now. She couldn't leave him all alone to be crushed. She needed him! Before she realized what she was doing, her lips spread apart and her own melodic voice cried out his name.

Sebastien's head turned instantly, his eyes wide in shock. Her voice had shaken his very core, calling him from the ground at which he had sat and sent him running to her. The ceiling crumpled behind him with every quick step of his feet until the sturdy frame of the door put an end to the cave-in. His arms immediately wrapped around the young girl, almost as if he were enchanted by her presence. "Sofia? Sofia, that was you, wasn't it?! You called out my name!"

Such a daft child... They didn't have time for this! Sofia took a step back from him, her eyes glaring and calling him out on his inappropriate timing. She hastily took his hand and was about to pull him along when the dreaded truth of the matter finally hit her. They were surrounded on all sides. There was no way out. "Sofia..." Sebastien breathed, having just realized the same. She felt him grasp her hand more tightly, his body shaking against hers. "I-I..." There was something Sebastien desperately wanted to say in this moment, something he was desperate for the young girl to hear. Before he could muster the courage, however, the fire around them vanished in an instant. He looked around and gasped in the cold darkness, the only source of warmth he felt was radiating from Sofia's hand still held in his. It was but another brief moments passing before he opened his eyes to the snowy ground outside, and a crying Elisabeth's arms were around both he and Sofia. The little girl saw the Duchess' face for but a second's time. Her small, fragile body was so weak and became limp in the woman's arms as the young girl's consciousness slipped away.

Danger did not only strike down over Cross Manor that night. The citizens' of Landon's screams filled the night as panic was unleashed upon the streets. How the enemy army could have advanced so far without anyone realizing was a mystery to most. Even more wondered why their own knights and protectors were not meeting the villains in resistance. Could the enemy forces truly have been so strong that not a Roudelian hero was left alive? Only one man knew the truth. The young Duke stumbled, falling against the unstable foundation of his burning home. He coughed, dropping to his knees to escape the deadly smoke suffocating his lungs. This was his divine punishment for so long denying what even he knew was what he was born to do. His own selfishness and cowardice was leading the kingdom to ruin. This battle, this war... Kyier could feel the weight of it on his shoulders. He sunk further to the ground, crying out as a framed portrait fell a few feet from him. The glass shattered over the wooden floor, the falling debris cutting deeply into the flesh of Kyier's cheek. He hissed from the pain. His mind was in a flurry of thoughts and entirely unable to process any of them. He wonder for a passing moment if perhaps he shouldn't try to escape. How much easier would it be to just allow the smoke and flames to consume him so he might perish with his home and heart. The destiny stretched out before him now was riddled with dangers not even he could comprehend. With the perilous trials he would finally be forced to face looming so close... Why try to escape when all that awaited him was further suffering? The orange glow of the flicker flames reflected back at him from the fallen portrait on the ground. Kyier watched as his mother and father's smiling faces burned beyond recognition in the fire. His breathing slowed as he lay backward, sinking back into the remains of his fading heart.

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